Kenzo Takada Passes On At 81: A Look Back At His Life & Legacy | CoolJapan

Just months after the death of legendary Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto comes the news of another J-fashion icon's passing. KENZO founder Kenzo Takada has died due to coronavirus complications last weekend. He was 81. As one of the very first Asian figures to conquer Western runways, we look back at his legacy, below.

Bringing the colours of Japan to Paris 

Fans of Takada and his brand would know that he found his home away from home in the fashionable city of Paris. Despite being born in a family of hoteliers, he chose his passion for art and eventually moved to pursue his Parisian dreams in the '60s. In the '70s, he humbly founded his colourful fashion label, eventually extending to perfumery laced with both Western and Eastern influences.

His designs were loud, colourful, and unique — a reflection of his expectations of what fashion in Paris should be like. He previously expressed that when he arrived in the city and found out it looks “dismal and bleak” — far from what he had expected from a place dubbed one of the world’s fashion capitals — he decided to bring colour (in the form of fabrics) from Japan and use it to start his fashion journey.

What’s interesting about this storied beginning is that it was so meticulously strategic, it was almost genius. With no money to his name after he moved to Paris, he built his first fashion showcase in a worn-down shopping centre with the help of his friends, hired amateur models to save money, and invited only 20 people — one of which was Catherine Rousso, then editor-in-chief of Elle Magazine. She loved the collection so much that one of the pieces graced the cover of the publication. This launched mass interest over Takada’s work overnight.

Accessible fabrics, incredible artistry 

As if a nod to his first showcase of having to skimp on resources yet wowing through creativity, Takada’s pieces reflect a mix of accessibility and artistry through his use of fabrics. His first collection was made of cotton, making use of quilts and layers to add dimension to the designs. Eventually, he turned to knitwear and more flowy fabrics, making use of bold and spontaneous designs that contrasted the linear and structured aesthetic of couture at the time. Similar to other Japanese designers who became huge names in Western fashion, Takada brought a sense of quirkiness and a new level of visual appeal to the industry.

He retired from the frontlines of the brand, which was acquired by LMVH in 1993, but the foundation of the brand and Takada's unique touch was retained.

A fresh perspective as a fashion figure

Beyond his works, however, one of the biggest legacies Kenzo Takada brought to the industry was the fact that he didn't want to be put into a box as a ‘Japanese designer’. He referred to himself only as a ‘fashion designer’. This promotes the acknowledgment of people’s works beyond labels that might cage or ‘other’ them, especially in a foreign territory.

He once said, ”I think I brought liberty to fashion, in how clothes are worn, how they are moved in, the colours.” And looking back at how he lived and breathed these words through his previous works and eventual influences towards his predecessors and fellow designers, we couldn’t agree more.

(Cover photo from: Wikicommons 在ウクライナ日本国大使館ホームページ, CC BY 4.0)

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